UK's First Carrier Strike Group in a Generation Finishes Trials

USMC F-35B takes off from the deck of the Queen Elizabeth (Royal Navy)

Published Oct 16, 2020 2:11 PM by The Maritime Executive

The Royal Navy's first new aircraft carrier in a generation, HMS Queen Elizabeth, has returned to Portsmouth following her first deployment with a full-scale carrier strike group - the largest task force of its kind that the service has assembled in decades. 

The Carrier Strike Group consisted of destroyers HMS Defender, HMS Diamond and USS The Sullivans, as well as frigates HMS Kent, HMS Northumberland and HNLMS Evertsen. The auxiliaries RFA Tideforce and RFA Fort Victoria provided supplies, stories and fuel to the group. The task force undertook training in the North Sea with UK, American and NATO forces as Queen Elizabeth prepares for her first operational deployment in 2021. 

HMS Northumberland and RFA Tideforce (Shaun Roster / RN)

USMC F-35 on takeoff (Mark Johnson / RN)

Belinda Alker / RN

Belinda Alker / RN

Live fire training with 500-pound bombs on Garvie Island (RN)

During the exercise, British and U.S. Marine Corps jets carried out strike missions from the carrier using live weapons for the first time. With 11 American F-35Bs, five jets from the UK’s 617 Squadron and 11 helicopters from the Fleet Air Arm, it was the largest Royal Navy air group in more than 30 years. 

Towards the end of the maneuvers, 617 Squadron and the U.S. Marine Corps VMFA-211 spent three days dropping 500-pound guided bombs onto a dedicated range off the coast of the UK. "It was an opportunity to end-to-end test all the systems within the ship and the squadron, from building and loading the weapons all the way through to successfully releasing them on target," said Commander Mark Sparrow (RN), the commanding officer of 617 Squadron.

“Over the past few weeks the Royal Navy has achieved what many people said would be impossible," said Commodore Steve Moorhouse, Commander UK Carrier Strike Group. “Be in no doubt: twenty years of ambition has been realized, and the UK Carrier Strike Group is now a reality."